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High Price to Pay

DW staff (th)June 2, 2008

As world leaders gathered in Rome to discuss skyrocketing food costs, strikes among Europe's fishermen have tried to bring attention to high fuel prices which they say could destroy the industry.

A Portuguese fisherman repairs fishing nets
Rising fuel prices have cut into fishing profitsImage: AP

Europe's fishermen say they have been left high and dry by increasing fuel costs. Since the beginning of 2008, marine fuel has jumped 30 percent.

French fishermen began launching work stoppages and blockades three weeks ago. Since then, fishermen in Italy, Spain and Portugal have also gone on strike. There have been calls for governments to abolish the tax on diesel to bring down the prices and for more subsidies.

In northern Spain, fishermen were in a dilemma. They can't continue to make a profit with high oil prices, but they also can't afford to stay home at the beginning of tuna season.

Tuna brings in 80 percent of the revenue, said Patxi Martinez, a local boat owner.

Tension mounts around Europe

Fishing industry workers block a refinery in Chateauneuf-les-Martigues near Marseille , southern France
Fishermen are angryImage: AP

While some Spanish fishermen decided to go back to work, Portuguese fishermen blocked access to warehouses over the weekend. The resulting clash with police in the town of Matosinhos left two people injured.

Portugal's President Anibal Cavaco Silva called on his countrymen to remain calm.

"I hope that dialogue will produce positive results in line with the country's higher interests," he said.

Italians have threatened to expand their strike if negotiations this week with Agriculture Minister Luca Zaia fail.

France had entered a "waiting phase," said Hubert Carre, head of the nationa fisheries committee, the CNPEM.

"Whatever protests there are next week, they are more likely to take place in Brussels," Carre said.

Fishermen in Britain also planned a demonstration in front of the Agriculture Ministry in London on Tuesday.

French truckers also striking

Logo of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
The UN's FAO will look for solutions

And it's not only fishermen who are expressing their outrage over high prices. There have been protests at oil refineries in recent weeks. And Monday some 200 lorry owners rallied in the French city of Strasbourg. Other protests were planned in the French Riviera, Lyon, Dijon and Marseille.

In Marseille, truckers threatened to occupy the Total oil refinery in La Mede, which has been blockaded on and off for the past three weeks.

French farmers and taxi drivers also got into the act, staging slowdowns. Some Spanish truckers have also said they would start striking as of June 6.

Calls for increased aid

Pakistani workers hold a rally protesting against a recent price hike
There have been food protests around the globeImage: AP

The rising fuel costs have been particularly damaging as they have come at the same time as increasing food costs. Food prices increased at about double the rate of inflation in the European Union, with dairy products leading the way, the bloc's statistics agency said on Monday, June 2.

And Europe is much better off than developing nations, where rising costs have caused food riots in a dozen countries.

Leaders from 50 countries will gather in Rome this week to discuss the issue. The summit, hosted by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), will try to get wealthy countries to commit to urgent aid and will also look at long-term strategies to safeguard food production.

The presidents of French, Egypt and Brazil along with the Prime Minister of Japan and top UN officials have said they will attend the summit, which starts Tuesday, June 3 and will last four days.

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe and Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad have also drawn protests with their presence at the event.

Food shortage acute in poor countries

A man carries potatoes at a central food market in Villa Nueva, Guatemala
Rising prices are a major concernImage: AP

Countries will pay $169 billion to import food this year, a 40 percent increase over 2007, according to the FAO. The increased costs are particularly felt in poor countries.

The urban poor and rural non.food producers spend a large share of their incomes on food. They are suffering the most from the price hikes, said FAO Director-General, Jacques Diouf.

"The current dramatic world food situation reminds us of the fragility of the balance between global food supplies and the needs of the worlds inhabitants, and of the fact that earlier commitments to accelerate progress towards the eradication of hunger have not been met," Diouf said.

The FAO lists 22 countries in danger due to chronic hunger and high import levels of both food and fuel. Countries such as Eritrea, Niger, Comoros, Haiti and Liberia are particularly affected.

A search for solutions

The FAO is expected to propose several solutions including food subsidies, cash transfers, food distribution and nutritional programs.

These emergency measures would require $775 million dollars, according to a donor appeal issued by another Rome-based UN agency, the World Food Program (WFP).

The FAO has also proposed vouchers and subsidies to provide farmers with seeds, fertilizer and animal feed. Such a program could "improve food availability, increase the income of small producers and may reduce price increases in local markets," FAO said in a statement.

FAO said implementing the program would require $1.7 billion.